The second part of our Girls in Vintage Soap Ads series deals with one of the oldest soap companies in the business, Pears. The company was named after its founder Andrew Pears, a London-based barber, who perfected a purifying method for soap in the early 1800s and produced the world’s first translucent soap for the mass market. Pears is still going strong, though it is now based in India and is owned by Hindustan Unilever, a subsidiary of Unilever proper.
With the company’s history established, let’s move on to the advertising art. I can’t make out the artist’s name in our first piece, but I’ve found multiple copies of it online, including both black & white and color versions. The color version required a good deal of clean-up in Photoshop, but I think the results were well worth it.
Here we have another unknown artist or date, but the style is quintessentially Victorian, so I’m dating it to around the 1880s-90s.
Here’s another Victorian image, and again, this required a lot of clean-up to remove the watermark, as well as fix some wear and tear. I do have a black & white version with the same watermark I could’ve posted, but I had already invested a few hours in cleaning up images and did not want to delay this post further. Maybe some day I will clean it up and stick it in here.
Another late Victorian offering. This is actually a riff on an earlier and better known ad campaign by the same company in which a crying baby is climbing out of his tub and trying to reach the soap. (You can see a version of that ad here.) The implication in this ad, however, would likely be controversial today, for good reason.
Here are a couple more pieces dating from around the same time period. The first one is cute, but I particularly like the second one. It seems to have been heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painting style.
Pears was well known for using existing art in their ad campaigns, right from their first major one, which was based on Giovanni Focardi’s sculpture You dirty boy! Other examples utilized famous paintings, most famously Frederick Morgan‘s His Turn Next!
Other ads were based on Briton Rivière‘s Naughty Boy, or Compulsory Education (I’ve also seen it listed on the web as The Reading Lesson, and as having been painted by Charles Burton Barber, but I’m sure this is incorrect—Barber made plenty of paintings featuring little girls and dogs, but this was not one of them) and Émile Munier‘s En pénitence, better known as Sugar and Spice in the Anglo world. For the latter I am including a simple reproduction of the actual painting as I have always found it quite charming. The first ad is pretty much just a straight reproduction of the Rivière painting anyway, save for a tiny Pears logo in the bottom right-hand corner.
This next piece, based on Frederick Morgan’s Over the Garden Wall, although not labeled as an ad, appeared in the Pears Annual (calendar), which could be considered a form of advertising. It also would fit comfortably in my Cherry Ripe! post, as the cherries hint at the erotic—or pre-erotic in this case—which is echoed in the boy’s stolen kiss, a fairly common theme in lighter Victorian art (see also the above ad, He won’t be happy till he gets it!)
This illustration I feel fairly confidant in dating to either the Edwardian era or slightly after.
This is probably my favorite of the Pears ads, and it was done by an obscure artist named Bruno Ximenes. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to find a decent version of this image. I actually downloaded several versions of this ad at varying qualities, but eventually I narrowed it down to two, and I’m sharing them both. Unfortunately, the best version—the first one here—had a very prominent watermark that had to be removed, and the image required a lot of experimenting to get it to look just right. I hope you guys appreciate the efforts I go to to make sure you get high-quality images. 😉
Early twentieth century ads frequently incorporated both illustration and photography, as is the case here.
This is an excellent transition point as we move into the photographic era proper. Throughout the first half and middle of the twentieth century, Pears’ major campaign focused on little girls and used the tagline: Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady. Obviously such a campaign would not fly today, but it was incredibly successful for the company for decades. This was also done in conjunction with another brilliant campaign that lasted even longer: an annual contest to find Miss Pears, the little girl who would represent the company for the coming year and would often appear in Pears advertisements.
British painter Louis Turpin apparently painted one of the Miss Pears girls in 1986. I couldn’t find any info on the image, so it could just be that the child’s surname happens to be Pears, but it would be unusual to name her Miss Pears in such a portrait, given how famous the contest was, if she wasn’t actually a Miss Pears, so I’m sharing it.
The Miss Pears Contest ended for good in 1996 as media purveyors became more sensitive to the issue of child sexualization.
Finally, we have a couple of television commercials. As I pointed out at the beginning of the article, the company is now based in India, which means India is now its primary market. As such, most of the ads for Pears are now Indian, including these two.
There’s also a pears soap Cherry Ripe print as well, couldn’t find one the same as I have though, the caption is something like let commerce flourish and let the countryside live!
Hello & thanks for the comment. I am aware of the Cherry Ripe! image being used in Pears Soap ads, but I’ve not seen that caption before. Interesting, thanks for sharing!
Your effort is always appreciated. So I have done some searching and found one small piece of information about the “Miss Pears” contest http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/131861023 entitled “Canberra’s Monique takes title” it indicates that a personal portrait was indeed part of this years prize. Here is another article where she receives her portrait.
Thank you. Wow, that is some deep research there! I actually already knew that there was a painted portrait made of each Miss Pears after a certain year. What I don’t know is if the painting I posted was one of those. It might be, or it might be entirely unrelated. Thanks for the info though!
I wholeheartedly agree:
The Ximenes picture is by far the most beautiful of all of these.
Now, about another ad here:
Somehow I just don’t get it.
WHY would that ad with the baby trying to climb out be controversial today?
Do you mean that the baby looks like he is about to fall out and get hurt, or what?
Thanks, Jerrold. I didn’t say that particular ad would be controversial. If I implied it, my mistake. The ad that would be controversial today is the one that utilizes the same tagline (“He won’t be happy till he gets it!”) but with the image of a boy kissing the girl against her will. It would be controversial because it essentially makes light of sexual assault. When I say it would be controversial for good reason, perhaps I am overstating the case, but I do feel strongly that nothing like sexual assault should ever be taken lightly, and that does come close.
Oh OK, thanks for clarifying.
Very frequently, when I revisit an old post here, I see elements of it that I had not previously noticed.
I always feel that when the discarded clothes are visible, they add to the beauty of a picture, as if emphasizing that the girl “couldn’t wait” to get her clothes off and get into the water. The Bruno Ximenes picture here is in that category.
The children depicted in these images seem to be post-toddler, about 3–4 years old. I have often heard, anecdotally, from parents how children—both boys and girls—this age have a tendency to strip off their clothes. Puzzling over this consistency, I finally decided to ask one mother what she thought the reason was. I was surprised at how common-sense her answer was. Most obviously, children this age don’t yet have a sense of body modesty, but that alone is not enough to explain it. The key is the fact that these children finally have the manual dexterity to remove the clothes themselves, a kind of empowerment really. With the lack of modesty, if the clothes are in the least uncomfortable, most especially on a warm day, a child may feel empowered enough to take this remarkable unilateral action! -Ron
Your efforts are greatly appreciated. These are some truly delightful images worthy of such painstaking treatment.
Thank you, Arielle.